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An Arborist's Dream

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

What happens when you plant a tree? Aside from feeling that you may just have contributed to something larger than yourself – be it augmenting the beauty of your neighborhood, adding some ecological prowess to your yard, or reaching into the future and holding hands with those who will be coming after you – there are more pragmatic reasons to plant that tree. Let’s discuss…

Mature trees mean more money. Huh? Yes, that’s right: having mature trees in your yard can mean increasing the price tag of your home, oftentimes by as much as $10,000. That’s a lot of extra money in your pocket when it comes time to sell.

Mature trees mean better stormwater management. Our sewers in major rain events become overwhelmed with water runoff: the rain hits such impermeable surfaces as concrete, asphalt and, yes friends, grass, and that water then deluges our sewers. The sewers then overflow all that water, along with any chemicals that the water may have picked up on the way, into our streams and rivers. By increasing our urban forest, the roots of trees will create more pore space in the ground into which water can flow instead of the sewers; similarly, the canopy of trees will break the downpour of rain and catch significant amounts of water on their leaves and branches.

Shade means energy savings. Planning for a large shade tree near your home (but not too close!) can mean great energy savings down the road. With climate change raising temperatures across the country, our energy costs will rise as well. If we plan for trees, however, to grow and shade our homes for the hottest times of the year, the savings can be astronomical.

So what tree should you plant for St. Louis? Below are three types of trees to plant.

ORNAMENTAL (usually small trees, good where utility wires are present)

· Redbud (Cercis canadensis). No tree forecasts the beauty of spring like a redbud in March-April. Such gorgeous red blossoms!

· Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea). With its white blooms in spring, this tree—which usually is multi-stemmed, adding another element of ornament to the landscape—certainly offers something to every landscape.

· Wild plum (Prunus americana). A great alternative to the Bradford pear (yuck!) at the same time of the year. Gorgeous white flowers adorn this tree, followed by edible fruits. Usually its natural form wants to make it into a suckering shrub, so a little bit of maintenance may be required to train it into tree form, but the pay off will be tree-mendous (heh heh).

MEDIUM SIZED TREES (may or may not be suitable for near utility wires)

· Trident maple (Acer buergerianum). Glorious fall color and stunning, unique bark – and they are often multi-stemmed. Need I say more?

· Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). Semi-evergreen with the most lusciously sweet lemon fragrance in the evenings in June. Plant near a deck so you can enjoy those fragrances while sipping sweet tea.

· American smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus). If you can find this guy, PLANT IT. Very cool flower makes the tree look like it is surrounded by smoke. And its fall color? To die for.

SHADE TREES (the big boys – be mindful of those utility wires!)

· Oaks (Quercus spp.) So with the shade trees I am going to categorize them by genus, as there are many different species in each genus that would make great shade trees. Oaks get a bad rap for being slow growers, but I think you would be surprised at how quickly they grow in youth. For a wet area, plant a swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii) or a swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor). For drier areas, try a post oak (Quercus stellata) or an overcup oak (Quercus lyrata).

· Hickories (Carya spp.) What a great, underused genus of trees. While hard to find in nurseries, ask for them anyway, as oftentimes your nursery can track these down. Pignut hickory (Carya glabra) is such an outstanding specimen.

· Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus). Okay, this one is NOT a genus, but an individual species. But what a species! Such cool bark and such great yellow fall color. And it’s leaves are rather tropical looking, as well.

Whatever the size of your yard, there is a tree for that yard. Go out and plant a tree!

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